Movie Review - Lawless

Shia LaBeouf as Jack Bondurant
in John Hillcoat's "Lawless"
The three Bondurant brothers are bootleggers in Franklin County, Virginia, 1931. They sell alcohol during Prohibition when doing so was illegal. They cross gangsters from Chicago and local law enforcement that create a mini-war in this area that spills a lot of blood. Lawless focuses on the final year or so of the Bondurant's criminal enterprise. Unfortunately, nothing that happens in this entire film makes me care for one, single second anything that happens to either of the brothers. I don't care what happens to them, mainly because I don't know what either of them wants or why they're doing what they're doing beyond the fact that bootlegging is apparently the thing to do in Franklin County and even that isn't given any kind of context.

It's not as if I need a detailed, psychological analysis of each of the three, but a little something of the like wouldn't have hurt. Never at any point did I get any of the characters' motivations. I don't know if any of them are in it for the money or the power, particularly in light of the ending, which makes me wonder why they were even bootleggers to begin with. Was it only because it was illegal? Was it because they never before faced the kind of danger they face as a result of the events here? The characters seem so entrenched prior to the end of Prohibition but they seem absolutely the same after it ends, no change in any of the boys, that it makes me question why they were bootleggers at all.

Instead of trying to understand the culture of bootlegging, the psychology of the brothers or why any of it is happening, director John Hillcoat (The Proposition and The Road) cares more about the bruises and the bullets. He's also more about this myth about the Bondurant brothers being invicible, which is just a waste of time, and doesn't add anything more about the idea of myths and legends in the late 19th to early 20th centuries that The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) doesn't deal with a million times better.

Shia LaBeouf (Transformers) stars as Jack, the youngest Bondurant brother. He basically looks up to his older brothers. He wants to be a bad-ass like them. He wants to be in the bootlegging business. I couldn't tell you to what end. I couldn't tell you at the end what he's learned or what value he got out of aspiring for that. He's more or less monkey-see-monkey-do with no real sense of responsibility. Like his brothers, he seems so insulated and lacking in any perspective, almost as if bootlegging is what they're supposed to do, but so what?

By the end, we don't know if Jack is still just the same monkey. Hillcoat, acting under Nick Cave's screenplay, has an extremely violent moment that Jack commits and then goes from that moment to now Prohibition is over. Therefore, I don't know if Jack makes the choice to get out of bootlegging or he's out of it simply because it's gone. The two women introduced in the lives of the brothers could have been methods for answering those kinds of questions, but Cave's script doesn't utilize that. The two women are wasted. Aside from Jessica Chastain who does a full-frontal nude scene, it wouldn't have mattered if she or Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) who plays Jack's love interest were there at all.

All of the other actors do good jobs, but most of them are stereotypes with very little nuance. Tom Hardy (Bronson) co-stars as Forrest, the second-oldest Bondurant. His stereotype is the strong, silent type who no matter the horror is un-phased and keeps going. He expresses practically no emotion. Why Chastain who plays Maggie, his love interest, is drawn to him says more about her possibly damaged character than his because Hardy isn't or can't give us much from his side.

Sadly, Gary Oldman is wasted. Guy Pearce eats scenery and is delicious in every moment. Yet, Cave's script makes him too villainous again without nuance. Pearce has appeared now in three films by Hillcoat, so clearly Pearce is a favorite of Hillcoat. This role for Pearce isn't, however, a favorite for me.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for strong bloody violence, language, some sexuality and nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 55 mins.


Popular Posts